Psilocybe cubensis: an introduction to Magic Mushrooms
Psilocybe cubensis: an introduction to Magic Mushrooms
The term “Magic Mushroom” has been on the rise in engine searches, mainstream media spotlights (for better or for worst), and even at the dinner table of your last family function. Everybody’s talking about it. But what everyone knows as “magic mushrooms” is actually a very broad category, comprising hundreds of different species of psilocybin-containing fungi. Like cannabis, there are numerous species and "strains" of magic mushrooms. And if you have ever tried magic mushrooms before, chances are you had one of the multiple strains of Psilocybe cubensis. The Psilocybe cubensis species is present almost everywhere worldwide and it is easy to cultivate, most likely earning the title of most popular magic mushroom in the world.
WHAT IS PSILOCYBE CUBENSIS?
Psilocybe cubensis is the most widespread species of magic mushroom on the planet. It can be found in North, Central and South America, South Asia, and Australia. This species exhibits an impressive number of varieties, and most of them grow naturally - on bovine dung.
And variety increases dramatically in the world of domestic cultivation. There are now potentially dozens of selectively bred strains, each displaying unique shape, size, colouration, and effects.
The active ingredient in Psilocybe cubensis is psilocybin, hence the name. In fact, all species of magic mushrooms fall into the Psilocybe genus. Their psychoactive power is what, at least to us, defines them. Psilocybin has the chemical structure 4-PO-HO-DMT. The dimethyltryptamine (DMT) at the end causes it to interface with the brain’s serotonin receptors. It shares this with most hallucinogens, which primarily influence serotonin production.
Mycologist Paul Stamets wrote in his mushroom identification guide, Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World, that the P. cubensis is “the most majestic of the Psilocybes” because of its easy-to-recognize size and its golden colour. Like all Psilocybes, P. cubensis’ colour depends on its level of hydration; they also bruise when handled, turning blue due to the oxidization of psilocin (basically being exposed to oxygen). Cubensis are distinct from other Psilocybe species because of their relatively large size and the way the mushroom’s cap widens with maturity. Overall, this is the most famous and widely consumed magic mushroom in existence, but it’s not the only one.
In fact, due to decades of selective breeding, there are over 100 different strains of P. cubensis, like Golden Teachers, B+, Penis Envy Mushrooms, and Pink Buffalo. While different strains of cubensis can also be found in the wild all over the world, the indoor-grown types are typically more potent. That’s one of the reasons the mushrooms you buy on the underground market are often stronger than the ones you pick in nature since they’ve been bred for strength and are grown in specific substrates (the material in which mushrooms grow) that maximizes their potency.
The way magic mushrooms have been perpetrated in the media and in some circles makes it a common mistake to think that the term refers to just one psychedelic mushroom species. In reality, the world of psychedelic fungi is much more diverse than most people might realize.
Estimates can bring the number of different psychedelic mushrooms to over 180 unique species belonging predominantly to the genus Psilocybe (117 species), but also from the genera Gymnopilus (13 species), Copelandia (12 species), and Panaeolus (7 species) to name just a few. These mushrooms naturally produce amounts of the tryptamine alkaloids psilocybin and psilocin, which can induce powerful and unique psychedelic experiences in humans when ingested in high amounts.
In his book “Psilocybin Mushrooms of the World”, Mycologist Paul Stamets affirms that P. cubensis “gets a rating of ‘moderately potent’.” Other research indicates that P. cubensis contains approximately 0.63 per cent psilocybin and 0.6 per cent psilocin. In contrast, Penis Envy, a particularly potent (and brazenly named) strain of P. cubensis, is thought to contain up to 50 per cent more psilocybin and psilocin than its wild predecessor. As a result of this intensive genetic isolation, the Penis Envy strain has extremely thick stems (get it?) and underdeveloped caps as compared to less modified P. cubensis strains.
Different psilocybin strains
A useful analogy for understanding the differences between different mushroom strains can be drawn between Cannabis and Psilocybe mushrooms. The separation of cannabis species into indica, sativa, and ruderalis corresponds to the separation of Psilocybe species into cubensis, azurescens, semilanceata, etc. Meanwhile, the separation of cannabis strains like Northern Lights, Purple Kush, and Jack Haze corresponds to mushroom strains like Penis Envy, Golden Teacher, and Amazonian.
Unlike cannabis, where the crossing of genetics combines plant traits to create a new weed strain, mushroom strains often start with a desirable mutation, such as being albino or growing especially large mushrooms. These random mutations can be selected and cloned for several generations from the largest, healthiest mushrooms of each life cycle, to create a new strain in a process known as “isolation.”
The effects, duration, and onset of the psychoactive experience provided by different species and strains (along with many other variables) can differ quite drastically among shrooms. Always know what you are taking and what to expect from it.